[As you probably already know, starting on Thursday, August 21, FXX is running the Every Simpsons Ever Marathon, running through all 552 episodes of “The Simpsons,” plus “The Simpsons Movie.” To aid in your viewing process, Team HitFix is selecting our favorite episodes from each day, plus an episode or two that you can skip and use as a bathroom or nap break.]
When folks complain that “The Simpsons” hasn't been good for 15 years, we normally mock them, but as we hit Day 5 of FX's Every Simpsons Marathon, even we have to admit that there is a small shift in quality. There are still great episodes in this period, which goes from “The Canine Mutiny” through “Maximum Homerdrive,” but a couple of our intrepid recommenders only took one episode apiece for this period. And we have a trio of “skippable” episodes at the end of the article. Expect the ratio of classic-to-skippable episodes to even out in the last week of the Marathon.
And some of the episodes in this period are kinda polarizing. Dave Lewis made “Homer's Enemy” one of this recommendations (and I'd be inclined to agree), but Frank Grimes hater Alan Sepinwall would have written a counterpoint had he had the time.
Check out our recommendations for Day 5 and chime in with your own favorites…
Dave Lewis Recommends:
“Homer's Enemy” (1:30 a.m.)
Why it's a classic: Poor old Grimey. As dark and divisive as the series gets, this love-it-or-hate-it episode is worth watching for Hank Azaria's tour-de-force turn as Frank Grimes alone. “Homer's Enemy” explores what happens when a straight-laced, hard working (and somewhat insufferable) everyman conquers adversity only to cross paths with Homer Simpson — gleefully lazy, blissfully unaware and yet sweetly sincere and impossible not to love. Grimey's breaking point comes quickly, and the episode is mostly a one-joke affair. But it's a funny joke, even as it's ridden to its inevitably dark conclusion.
As Grimey surveys The Simpsons' familiar abode, he marvels at Homer's seemingly perfect life and unparalleled good luck. Homer points out photos on the wall, recalling past episodes.
Homer: “And here's a picture of me in outer space…”
Grimes: “You? Went into outer space? You?”
Homer: “Sure! You've never been?”
Alan Sepinwall Recommends:
“The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” (3 a.m.)
Why It's a Classic: Due to the tragedy of 9/11, and the fact that a large chunk of the story takes place at the World Trade Center, “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” vanished from the show's syndication package for many years, so it'll be a treat just to see it on TV at all. Even with that unfortunate historical reminder, this is perhaps the funniest of the show's many “The Simpsons are going to…!” road trip episodes, as Homer endures every annoyance of visiting the Big Apple (traffic, rude locals, impenetrable bureaucracy, too many pizzerias named Ray's), while Marge and the kids get to enjoy some touristy treats, including a Broadway musical about celebrity rehab and Bart getting to meet Alfred E. Neuman during a visit to the Mad Magazine offices. Add in the first appearance of Duffman (whose appearance at Moe's drives Barney on the bender to end all benders), a desperate-to-pee Homer dreaming of a very different kind of Flushing Meadows, and the family's “Ben Hur”-esque escape from New York, and you've got a real treat.
Favorite lines: Requesting a beverage to wash down the disgusting cart food he just ate, Homer is told the vendor only serves Mountain Dew and crab juice, and replies, “Blecch! Ew! Sheesh! I'll take a crab juice.” Marge responds to Homer's latest New York horror story by telling him, “Of course you'll have a bad impression of New York if you only focus on the Pimps and C.H.U.D.s.,” and later raves that ever since she was a little girl, “I always dreamed of being in a Broadway audience.”
Daniel Fienberg Recommends:
“The Cartridge Family” (5 a.m.)
Why It's a Classic: How many times did you see the “Simpsons” soccer parody — “And Ties? You Bet!” — passed around during the World Cup? Well, that's just the opening to one of the show's sharpest critiques of America's obsession with violence and tools of violence. The amazing thing is that “The Cartridge Family” isn't on any level a criticism of guns or gun culture per se. The show depicts several reasonable characters using guns in reasonable ways. What comes under attack is a society in which Homer Simpson can get a gun, even if he has to endure a very brief waiting period. The ultimate message of “The Cartridge Family” isn't that guns are bad, but that virtually unrestricted access to guns, and then callous inattention to those guns after they move into circulation, can be dangerous. And yes, we should probably be concerned that the episode's place in the gun control debate remains basically unchanged 17 years after it aired. This episode should seem dated, but it doesn't. Oh and the episode is funny. I promise.
Favorite Lines: Krusty on guns: “Hey, yutz! Guns aren't toys. They're for family protection, hunting dangerous or delicious animals, and keeping the King of England out of your face.” Homer responding to the five-day waiting period: “Five days? But I'm mad now! I'd kill you if I had my gun.” Lenny on the need for bigger guns: “Assault weapons have gotten a lot of bad press lately, but they're manufactured for a reason: to take out today's modern super animals, such as the flying squirrel, and the electric eel.” And, of course, Homer on the power of carrying a gun: “I felt this incredible surge of power, like God must feel when he's holding a gun.”
Daniel Fienberg Also Recommends:
“Das Bus” (9:30 a.m.)
Why It's a Classic: There's something quaint and dated, but still effectively silly, about this episode's B-story, which finds Homer attempting to start an Internet company, which was still kinda cool in early 1998. That stuff will confuse younger viewers, who won't get that the idea of Bill Gates “buying out” the competition was once amusing-ish. However, the “Lord of the Flies” A-story with the Model UN stranded on an island and going from initially idealistic — “And every night the monkey butlers will regale us with jungle stories” — to sadistically feral is a big winner. It's one of the best showcases for the full depth of the Springfield Elementary class, offering good material for Milhouse, Nelson, Ralph and even Sherri/Terri, who get my favorite line in the whole episode as they face starvation and declare, “I'm so hungry I could eat at Arby's.” The material on the island is so packed with narrative that they have to resolve the episode with James Earl Jones narration.
Favorite Lines: Even the toss-off moments are clever. I cite Homer's “Internet, eh? Scratch, eh? Maude, eh?” somewhat frequently. And Ralph has three different laugh-lines, with “Go banana!” and “They taste like (pause) burning.” and “Meow!” The kangaroo court trial on the island is amply quotable. And then there's Principal Skinner's, “Order! Do you kids want to be like the real UN? Or do you just want to squabble and waste time?”
Dave Lewis Also Recommends:
“Dumbbell Indemnity” (10:30 a.m.)
Why it's a classic: “Classic” may be too generous for this one. This was the era when “The Simpsons” was first starting to lose its golden touch, but was still capable of cranking out a zany adventure laced with laugh-out-loud moments like this Moe-centric entry. In it, Moe drafts Homer into an increasingly elaborate scheme to impress his new girlfriend Renee. Helen Hunt plays the object of Moe's sweet, albeit awkward, affection. At the time, Hunt and Hank Azaria (the voice of Moe) were married in real life, but Moe himself wasn't so lucky in love.
Moe: “Where ya going, baby? You goin' to find some corpses?”
Renee: “Yes Moe, I'm going to find corpses…”
Drew McWeeny Recommends:
“Lisa the Simpson” (11 a.m.)
Why it's a classic: Lisa finally learns the horrifying truth about her own genetic legacy, and begins to fear that she is going to become just as stupid as her father as she gets older. The truth is more complicated than that, though, and Lisa eventually comes to terms with her role in the family, embracing her place as a Simpson. As someone who was adopted as a baby, I am fascinated by the idea of what we inherit versus what we learn, and I think this is both smart and emotional as a way of showing how hard it is sometimes to fit in our own families. Besides, Jasper gets frozen into the Kwik-E Mart freezer and becomes a tourist attraction. How great is that?
“I'm Troy McClure. You may remember me from such other medical films as 'Mommy, What's On That Man's Face?' and 'Alice Doesn't Live Anymore.'”
“Ugh, salisbury soup again?”
“My Joe isn't sloppy enough!”
“And talk about weak coffee!”
And I love Jasper's note he pins to himself before climbing into the freezer. “I have frozen myself so I may live to see the wonders of the future. Thaw me out when robot wives are cheap and effective. PS – please alter my pants as fashion dictates.”
Josh Lasser Also Recommends:
“The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace” (4:00pm)
Why it”s a Classic: Aside from a great guest star moment with William Daniels voicing, KITT, this is a memorable episode because it features Homer attempting to be really good at something, in this case inventing. He actually puts his mind to it and comes up several truly awful inventions before accidentally stealing an idea from Thomas Edison, which no one knows was Edison”s. So, in true Homer fashion, he goes to NJ to destroy the Edison chair before anyone finds it. It”s the prefect combination of utter brilliance and complete stupidity.
In one of my favorite moments from the series as a whole, Homer shoots Marge with a make-up shotgun (one of his inventions). She ends up covered in far too much make-up and points out to him “Homer, you got it set on ‘whore.””
Marge brings Homer a sandwich while he”s working, explaining, “I brought you a tuna sandwich. They say it's brain food. I guess because there's so much dolphin in it, and you know how smart they are.”
Of course, if you happen to need a bathroom break or a nap or a brief window communicating with the outside world… Three to skip on Page 2…
Daniel Fienberg Recommends Skipping:
“The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase” (2 a.m.)
Why It's a Dud: “The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase” unquestionably does a good job of pinpointing certain kinds of unsuccessful and unfunny TV spinoffs, but perhaps its problem is being too good at its job and for much too long. I'm fairly tolerant of “Chief Wiggum, PI,” especially since it's basically “NCIS: New Orleans,” only with more restraint. I cannot, however, sit through “The Love-matic Grandpa” and telling me that it's intentionally a parody of bad sitcoms of a certain type doesn't make me any more amused or impressed. And “The Simpson Family Smile-Time Variety Hour” has moments, but ultimately falls into the same category of playing its parody so close to the real thing that that's just what it becomes.
Redeeming Lines: When the Simpsons visit Chief Wiggum in New Orleans, Lisa's spontaneous declaration, “Chief Wiggum, I can't wait to hear about all the exciting, sexy adventures you're sure to have against this colorful backdrop!” makes me giggle. I can also laugh at “What's a Tim Conway?” “Oh, about 120 pounds.” I also quite like Troy McLure's list of upcoming “Simpsons” plot lines including magic powers, identical triplets and a new alien friend named Ozmondiar.
Alan Sepinwall Recommends Skipping:
“The Principal and the Pauper” (3:30 a.m.)
Why It's a Dud: Perhaps the most controversial episode of the series' classic first decade – and one that still generates a lot of disagreement among the show's veteran writers – “The Principal and the Pauper” reveals that Principal Skinner is actually Armin Tamzarian, an impostor who was in the real Seymour Skinner's unit in Vietnam, and stole his identity when Skinner was presumed killed in action. The real Skinner (voiced by Martin Sheen) returns and takes over Springfield Elementary, but everyone comes to dislike him so much that he's driven out of town, while Tamzarian legally gets his name changed to Seymour Skinner and everyone agrees to never discuss it again. Showrunners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein would later suggest that the whole episode was meant to be an out-of-continuity experiment like “The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase,” but it completely undermines the character of Seymour Skinner and his long and dysfunctional relationship with his mother, all in service of a story that's not funny enough to justify it.
Redeeming Lines: All my favorite lines regarding this episode are from other episodes that mock it, like “Behind the Laughter” using it as an example of the show's increasingly “gimmicky and nonsensical plots,” or, in “I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot,” Lisa retorting to a Skinner comment about naming another cat Snowball by replying, “I guess you're right, Principal Tamzarian.”
Daniel Fienberg Also Recommends Skipping:
“Sunday, Cruddy Sunday” (9 p.m.)
Why It's a Dud: It's almost like FXX wanted you to be able to take a break on Monday night to watch the Emmys. Between 8 p.m. and 9:30, two of the three worst episodes of Day 5 will air, with the erratic “Viva Ned Flanders” at 8 p.m. (pictured with this story) and Sunday, Cruddy Sunday” airing at 9 p.m. I'm singling out the Super Bowl episode, which is more focused on guest stars — John Madden, Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, Pat Summerall, Rosey Grier, Fred Willard, Dolly Parton and Rupert Murdoch — and pandering to the audience coming out of the big game than to making anything in this situation funny. I don't know if the Homer-centric A-story is worse than the Homer-and-Ned-Get-Vegas-Wives A-story on “Viva Ned Flanders,” but the somewhat intentionally banal B-story — Marge and Lisa try to put together a “Vincent Price's Egg Magic” kit — is weak even as commentary on weak B-stories. You'll note that both of my skippable episodes for this day are episodes that feature self-aware lameness. This was something the writers did a number of times in this period. You can make the argument that “The Principal and the Pauper” is also winking-and-nudging about its intended badness. It's hard not to view this as cockiness on some level. It's also hard to blame the writers for that cockiness. No show in TV history ever soared past 200 episodes still working this consistently at this high a level.
Redeeming Lines: I like the conversation between Homer and Willard's Wally in which they discuss, via intentionally shoddy ADR, their love for the two teams playing in the Super Bowl. It reminds me of the “Mr. Black” punchline from “Kamp Krusty,” which I still somewhat regret leaving out of our listing. And I appreciate that Pat Summerall and John Madden come to the conclusion that the episode was a rip-off in their post-episode analysis, but that is, again, self-awareness that doesn't justify the episode.
What are your picks for the fifth day of the FXX Every Simpsons Ever Marathon?